Cyclepreneurs: Compost Pedallers Bike for a Better Food System

The Compost Pedallers in Austin, TX use bikes to divert organic waste from the landfill system back into the food system.

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Cyclepreneurs Compost Pedallers

Madeleine Froneck collects organics from a household during her Compost Pedallers route. Bike pictured: Surly Big Dummy with Surly cargo trailer.

Dustin Fedako of Compost Pedallers in Austin, TX is using the bicycle to relieve guilt – making him both a clever cyclepreneur and a brilliant “cycologist”. What are we feeling guilty about? Not composting roughly 30% of the trash we produce every day that could be kept out of the waste stream and put back into the food cycle. We took a spin with Dustin to learn more about his conscience-clearing, pedal-powered, recycling business.

Really? Thirty percent of my leftovers are compostable?
That’s right. Like most people, you’re probably throwing away a lot of nutrient-rich organics that could stay out of landfills and be put to good use as fertilizer on urban farms and in community gardens.

How is Compost Pedallers changing the equation?
We’ve developed a completely sustainable residential and commercial collection program that has diverted nearly 650,000 pounds (295,000 kg) of organic waste since we began in 2012, redirecting it for agricultural use to grow more food locally. And we own no motor vehicles; we are bike-powered.

Is it easy for interested customers to get started?
Absolutely. Customers subscribe to our collection service which costs $16 a month for residences or up to $100 a month for high volume businesses. They place their scraps in a sealable green bucket that we provide and they leave it outdoors for weekly pick-up by bike. We then haul these compostables by bicycle to nearly 10 active urban farms and gardens in the Austin area and to hub stations for trucking to locations farther away.

compost pedallers

Dustin Fedako, right, with Compost Pedallers cofounder Eric Goff.

Do local growers pay you for the compost materials?
No, we donate the organics to our Comp-Hosts, saving them almost $15,000 in fertilizer costs in the past 4 years. They in turn grow healthy, delicious food for local consumption.

According to your website it’s possible to throw the aftermath of an entire kids party into the compost bin.
Just about. Any napkins, paper products, and pizza boxes can be composted. Balloons that are true latex are compostable and so are pure paraffin wax crayons.

Have Austinites always been so compost conscious?
We’re definitely a progressive, eco-conscious city that’s also responsive to bicyclists. And a recent ordinance will make composting mandatory for food businesses by 2018, so Compost Pedallers is really well positioned to take advantage of Austin’s new, more ambitious recycling efforts.

What does your current customer base look like?
We collect from more than 600 residential customers weekly with a growing list of over 50 commercial establishments, mostly restaurants and offices. As our collection routes expand, so will our customer base.

Sounds like your riders are covering a lot of territory.
Actually we’ve calculated that our Pedallers have expended more than 2.25 million calories making their rounds. And they’re burning fat, not fossil fuels. Austin’s center is densely packed, which helps a lot with our customer collections and route logistics.

You’re experimenting with electric assist bikes now, too.
E-bikes look like a real game changer for us. We’ve been testing and tweaking a new e-assist bike from Trek with a customized hauling rig. It’s performing really well. With the added speed and reduced physical demands, we’ve been able to increase our maximum number of pick-ups per route from 50 to more than 90. That’s huge.

This is the kind of Cyclepreneurs concept that’s easy to love. Does it translate well to other locations?
We’re refining a model we think can be used worldwide. We’ve already been contacted by eco-organizations from 120 cities in seven countries, so we think bike-powered compost recycling is a sustainable idea that’s here to stay.

Allan Ishac writes the Cyclepreneurs column from New York City. He has also created, the only pedal-powered businesses website.

Have a bike-based business we should know about? Email Allan

1 Comment

  • somedude

    Rear axle on that trailer needs to be moved forward to better balance the load… if those bins are all equally full, you have excessive tongue weight and are straining the hitch and rear wheel.

    A regular mountain bike would be move maneuverable, stout and way cheaper than that longtail.

    Also, those tapered bins are really too tall for the width of your trailer and are going to be “tippy” if full. The lower the better. Plus if they get full of food waste they will be way too heavy to handle safely.

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